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The dumbbell bench press is one of the most classic chest exercises you can do to build a bigger chest. That said, it is not the chest alone that powers the dumbbells up on every rep. The shoulders and triceps are very much involved in assisting with the exercise as well. This can be a problem however when either one of these ancillary muscle groups starts to take over the movement and takes away from the contribution of the chest muscles.
In this video, I am going to show you how to influence the amount of work that is being done by the chest during the exercise with just a few simple tweaks to your hands. By simply adjusting the way that you hold the dumbbells and how you move your hands through space as you press the dumbbells, you can greatly impact the muscle group that takes on the brunt of the work during this popular chest building exercise.
In order to hit the chest more during the db bench press you are going to want to lead with your thumbs during the press. What does that mean? It means that as you press the dumbbells up over your chest you are going to want to tilt them ever so slightly so as your thumbs are pointing up towards the ceiling and your pinkies are tilting downward. This will have the effect of letting the inner half of the dumbbell raise higher than the outer half.
It is important to point out that you are going to want to do this from a position of your hands facing forward during the press, not towards each other. The reason why this alteration in the position of your hands has such a profound effect on the muscles in your chest is because of what it does to the upper arms when pressing.
By having your thumbs ride upwards as you press the dumbbells up, you are getting your biceps to get closer to each other during the ascent. This has the effect of increasing horizontal adduction at the shoulder which is a key component of chest activation. On the other side of this however is that fact that if you do the same exact movement with your thumbs but out of a neutral (or palms facing each other) grip, you would be doing the opposite of what you are trying to do. Here you would be activating your front deltoid muscle substantially more.
For most of us, this is the exact thing we are trying to avoid during the dumbbell bench press. If you feel most of the work being done by your shoulders during a bench press you will definitely want to avoid the neutral grip position as well as the changes and cheats to your wrist placement during the press.
Finally, if you have a bad shoulder and you feel too much pain in the joint during the bench press you can try the variation that I show here last. In this case you want to lead with your pinkies instead of your thumbs. This will take a lot of the strain off of the shoulder and shoulder capsule and instead let the triceps help out the chest to perform the movement. As I said, this is really useful if you don’t want to have to give up dumbbell bench pressing entirely because of shoulder pain.
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